Decriminalizing Recreational Drug Use

A century ago, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud discussed that the young child’s ego functions (sex, affection, aggression, self-preservation) was replaced by restrictions. Freud identified this as the Pleasure Principle being modified by the Reality Principle. In modern terms, it’s pain and pleasure. Freud, in his early days, had a cocaine addiction problem.

One might say that drug use is a return to the pleasure principle from reality and social recreational drug use may begin as a path to heightened pleasure. Pleasure is a chronically addictive and, despite the risks and possible pains, recreational drug use becomes a chronic drive, vital to living. It’s a body urge akin to going to the bathroom or snacking between meals. Science is just beginning to study and learn the systems of the addiction to pain and pleasure and, while there are exciting discoveries, curing addictions are still particles in a wind. There are therapies for some forms of addictions but do they work?

In the early 1880s, apothecaries touted added cocaine a cure for everything from morphine addiction and depression to dyspepsia and fatigue. It was widely available in tonics, powders, wines and soft drinks before its mass consumption created a cadre of raging addicts demanding medical attention. One of cocaine’s leading medical advocates was a struggling Viennese neurologist named Sigmund Freud. He began studying cocaine’s effects in 1884, and his clinical notebooks amply demonstrate that his favorite experimental subject was himself. Opioid and stimulant addiction was rampant throughout Europe and Asia. For the most part, it was recreational but it was as addictive as tobacco and alcohol. Its eventual illegalization had only a small influence on reduced drug use. Cocaine is a major crime industry and controlling it is a massive problem.

As an opioid, heroin itself is dangerously addictive. According to National Institute of Health, an estimated 4.2 million people over 12, in the USA have used it at least once, and 23% of that group may have an addiction problem. As a stimulant, cocaine use is more pervasive as a popular recreational drug. Affecting a key neurotransmitter at brain level called dopamine. Naturally produced by the body, dopamine acts to the brain like adrenaline does to your body. Another dopamine affective drug is Methamphetamine. Unlike cocaine, methamphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other psychological conditions so it can be somewhat similar to cocaine by prescription.

As pure states of these drugs are illegal, distribution is handled “behind closed doors” by crime families running cartels and distribution networks. Street versions of these drugs obviously don’t adhere to Federal Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Certain impurities may be added and those impurities may affect dosage strengths and may add forms of toxicity. Those toxicities may contribute to the death of the drug user. Beyond addiction, these addictive drugs should be decriminalized to take them away from street criminals.

The recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman from a possible heroin overdose was a central media splash for over a week. The talented and acclaimed actor has been struggling with substance abuse for many years and recently spent some time at a voluntary rehab center. Rehab centers cite very high success rates from what is perceived to be an acute condition. In Hoffman’s (and many others), this progressed into a chronic addiction, much like alcohol, cigarettes, eating, and certain repeated obsessions. The problems involving recreational drug use involve the social schema that it’s okay to purchase, own, carry and use these illegal substances. Many do.

Data from the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2009 showed heroin killed nearly 3,500 Americans, almost double the number that perished in 2000. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 9.2 percent of the USA population aged 12 or older. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives) used for recreation. Based on the survey, nearly 1 of 10 has tried a form of recreational drug at least once. Since many drugs are sold on the street, actual demographic data is limited.

According to the 2013 United Nations Drug Report, there are estimates that in 2011 a total of 14.0 million recreational heroin injections were used worldwide. (Again estimated data)

Painkillers are legally prescribed or sold over-the-counter for the relief of occasional or, under advisement, chronic pains. Many people use them as per directions but there are those that feel “more is better” and abuse them for better results. The problems associated with overdosing can lead to organ and digestive disorders.

Recreational abusers begin either by peer or social pressure. Repeated use is the body’s natural adaptation as a “need”. That is the root of addiction. Your body and brain learn to accept the substance and you crave for it almost involuntarily. In a sense you are relieving the pain, the hunger that your mind and body elicit. Satiating that pain is pleasurable, as pleasurable as a great meal, an amorous overture, or a vacation. Pain and Pleasure are prime motivators and the quest for pleasure drives the international economy. There are physical illustrations as to how our brains are stimulated by any form of pain and pleasure be it social, chemical, or otherwise.

You’ve heard of the song “addicted to love.” A recent study at Loyola Medicine illustrated a neuroscience explanation of how levels of a key neurotransmitter change with the pleasure of passion. The visual appearance of food as opposed to water excites another neurotransmitter in a study at Drexel University in 2013. Loneliness and materialism are mutual partners to reduce feeling of isolation, a consumer study shows.

Now passion may lead to everlasting love or criminal behavior. Food can lead to irresponsible diets associated with obesity that’s connected with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Greed and loneliness can lead to certain aversive behaviors.

You and your body are one. Pain and pleasure are intricately bound to the course of living. You seek it and hope to find it. Following a frequent path to find pleasure becomes a habit. At what point does it change from voluntary to involuntary? When you can or can’t stop the behavior. When you can’t, it’s an addiction.

In his new book, Craig Nakken bridges addiction to compulsive behavior. He explains the complexity of behavioral, psychological, and physiological needs that compel people toward shaping an addictive personality.

According to Stephen Mason and a growing number of researchers, there is a genetic component to having an addictive personality. Social influences may be less involved. It is nature first and nurture might follow. Common addictions for people with this personality include gambling, sex, food, illicit drugs, tobacco, alcohol, cults, social groups, relationships or people (stalking), exercise, the Internet and even shopping. Social media and texting are becoming observed and, in some ways, life threatening addictions.

The problem is that controlling popular recreational addictive substances like cocaine and heroin isn’t cutting into the problem. It feeds giant criminal cartels and, as commodities, is extremely valuable. It is tied to street crime. Often, the drugs may be polluted with pseudotoxic or toxic substances that can result in deaths like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was likely to have had an addictive personality. Though Mr. Hoffman earned respect for his performances in theater and movies, his personality drove him to alcohol and heroin, and death at age 46.

Another promising actor, Heath Ledger, died of a lethal dosage of prescription and non-prescription drugs that were readily available. They were oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. The list of celebrity deaths due to drug use is vast.

The real horror, however, is the street crimes that may be related to drug sales, distribution, and competition. There are accidents involving deaths from moving vehicles. In addition, there are huge costs to pay law enforcers to crack down on drug cartels and employees. Most of these are hidden from view.

The addictive personality is found in all walks of life regardless of politics, religion, race, ethnicity, wealth and gender. It is inclusive of rank, education, and celebrity.

Decriminalizing recreational drugs takes it out of the hands and the auspices of criminal cartels to government controlled centers. Drugs can be standardized and sold. Based on buyers, the sales stations can identify the consumer and also ask if they were seeking intervention (which they could decline). Sales would be taxed, much in the same way alcohol and tobacco are. Some States already allow sale of marijuana and synthetic marijuana is available online. Colorado expects to add $100-million in marijuana sales tax revenue by end of 2014.

The war on street drugs is also very high in costs and, while law enforcers are successful at thwarting one shipment, others manage to pass through. Addicts always have a supplier. According to estimated statistics, the amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs is more than $51-billion. The war is unwinnable because chronic addictive personality types will always demand and pay for a supply. Imagine what the crime cartels are earning! The estimated numbers of those involved in recreational drug use seem to rise each year! Prohibition of these street drugs adds to the nation’s deficit. Is it wasted money?

According to police reports, there were 70 bags of heroin in Phillip Hoffman’s apartment when he died. A couple artists, believed to be the source, had over 100 bags among them. These are generally respectable, professionals. Who would know? Addictive personalities are found in all walks of life and recreational drug use isn’t only found in dark alleys but in homes of the rich and famous. It may even be found in the private offices of elected officials. The facts rest that practically anyone can have some form of addictive personality and practically several of those could be accessing and using illicit drugs for recreational pleasure.

Rehab centers are great businesses but, since most admissions are voluntary, there are few long range studies to demonstrate that addictions don’t return in a year. Hoffman was in a rehab center a year ago and now he’s in a grave. 12-Step programs claim that if someone remains active for over a year, the success rate is high. There are no firm or estimated statistics that show how many make it to a year attendance.

Based on year-to-year estimated users, addicted drug use follows a constant pattern. The $50-billion annual expenditure does little to bring those numbers lower. The drug use numbers may rise.

Many will openly agree that heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines should be controlled substances but they should not be prohibited. Drug users always find suppliers and many of those may be hardened gangsters in crime syndicates. The drugs aren’t standardized and users may die of the toxic fillers instead of the actual drug. Addictive personalities, prone to drug use, are chronic conditions based on the body’s basic system of homeostasis. Drugs are needed for balance, even though recreational. For those people, drug use is wonderful, even though it may be bad for them.

Accepting decriminalization of recreational drug use is a sensible way of standardizing content, monitoring users, adding government revenue, and suppressing street criminal problems and importers. Decriminalization doesn’t mean these substances are great but, for some addictive personalities, access from reliable government stations may be preferable. Subsequently, they still aren’t legal. They are controlled.

If you remember why it was necessary to repeal prohibition of alcohol beverages, you can understand that repealing cocaine and heroin drug use is worth consideration. It has been a bad investment to enforce, it elevates crime, and drug use potentially causes deaths. So do lots of other things. One day there may be a way to help control all forms of chronic addictions and compulsions. Until then, decriminalizing recreational drug use may be the better choice among two evils. People like Hoffman will no longer die in vain.

The federal and local governments can save money by becoming the agents that standardize and sell heroin, cocaine, or similar substances. With responsible registration of users, and based on frequency of use, rehab intervention programs may be recommended but not forced on drug users. Heavy taxation, as with alcohol and tobacco, will bring revenue to State and federal budgets. The bottom-line is people with addictive personalities have a chronic need for drugs. Slice out the criminal providers, decriminalize recreational drugs, and let the government monopolize and control the market.

NOTE: I personally do not use, support nor approve of recreational drug use but believe that decriminalization may be a more positive approach to deal with a chronic, persistent problem.

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